Alison Dakin has wanted to be a guide since she was 14, but the path wasn’t always linear. Unlike a significant number of people living in our region who have relocated from around the world for the lifestyle, Al has lived here for almost all of her life. She grew up in Parson, BC, which is a small community just south of Golden.
Al started working at the Alpine Club of Canada’s mountaineering camps when she was 14. She began as a young teenager peeling potatoes and washing dishes, and over her summers spent at the camps eventually became a camp manager. During her time working on the camps she was able to go climbing once a week with a mountain guide, one of whom was our Sylvia Forest. It was from this point that she knew that all she wanted to do was climb and ski and be in the backcountry. But she still tried out university, studying geology as well as literature and visual arts, the latter of which she enjoyed and found that she did well in. But despite her affinity for the arts, Al quickly realised that she wasn’t that interested in university.
When she was just 22 years old, Al started Golden Alpine Holidays with some other partners. She built the business into a well known group of heli-accessed backcountry lodges in the Esplanade Range, right by our tenure. They offer guided ski-touring in winter and hiking in summer. It was at this point that Al figured that it was time to get certified as a guide. She passed her first exam 30 years ago this year, in 1992.
In 2006, Al sold Golden Alpine Holidays. This is when she began guiding at Great Canadian, as she was lured here by some friends who were guiding here at the time. Al is now one of our most experienced lead guides, and loves working here because of the flexibility afforded by our location. Just like our guests, our guides are able to be here the length of a stint that suits them, as there is no heli transfer required to travel to the lodge.
Al says that during the whole process of becoming a guide, she found the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) to be very supportive of her. She felt that she was always encouraged and treated fairly, although harshly, just like everybody else. Through hearing the experiences of other women who have gone through the process of becoming a guide, Al has listened to many stories about the issues that women have faced. However, she feels that she is an anomaly in the sense that these challenges do not fit with her reality. “I felt that all doors were open, but maybe I was either lucky or unaware.”
In the summer months when she’s not skiing, Al is kept busy with her guided hiking business. It’s a busy life being a guide, and Al says that she would love to pursue her lifelong passion for visual arts, but is limited by time. She says that she still thinks about it all the time, and hopes to get back to it someday.
Our Director of Guide Operation, Sue Gould, was first introduced to heli-skiing during her previous career as a professional pianist.
Sue grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and would ski in the nearby ski resorts in the Canadian Rocky Mountains while she was growing up. She was working at the Banff School of Fine Arts, when CMH invited her to play at their Cariboos lodge. When Sue inquired about how she would be payed, she was offered a week of free heli-skiing.
This was a turning point in Sue’s life, as she continued to return to CMH with the same arrangement, and began to build connections with people in the industry. Meanwhile, Sue was becoming frustrated with the music industry, and spending more time in the mountains, ski touring and mountaineering.
Sue recalls somebody asking her, “when are you taking your guides’ exam?” Before being asked this question, she hadn’t considered it as she already thought that she must be too old already to become a guide. But she thought she might as well try, so she dropped the piano career and dedicated herself to training to be a guide.
Needless to say, Sue was successful in her endeavour, and has had a great guiding career culminating in her current role leading the team of guides at GCH.
As she was going through the process of becoming a guide, only a handful of women were already certified ski guides. She did have a supportive group of women who were going through the process at the same time, and she trained with fellow GCH guide Syl.
Sue is also the mother to two kids, who are now grown-up. She recalls that becoming a mother was hugely challenging to her career, as she felt cast-aside within the industry, and that seemed to be generally accepted. She became a part-time guide for some time, and gladly put all her energy towards her kids.
Alison Cardinal is originally from Northern Ireland, a country which is not well known for producing ski guides. In fact, as far as Ali knows, she is the only female ski guide certified anywhere in the world who comes from Northern Ireland.
Ali has been skiing since she was 11 years old, both in Scotland and in the European Alps. It was while she was in university in Glasgow studying geology that she also became interested in rock climbing, ice climbing and ski touring.
After university, Ali travelled to Canada. Her plan was to spend a short time climbing and skiing as much as possible before returning to the UK and getting a “real” job that her parents would approve of. Things obviously did not go as planned, as Ali is now a fully certified Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) hiking and ski guide, and has permanently settled down in the Canadian Rocky Mountains with her family.
Ali is a mum of two young boys, who were born right in the midst of her guiding career. Although it can be difficult to juggle parenting with full-time guiding, she was able to spend more time at home when they were really little by dialing-back on the guiding and spending winters teaching avalanche courses closer to home.
Amélie has a short history with GCH – she joined us part-time this winter. It’s been wonderful to have her join us this season.
Amélie grew up in Quebec, learning to ski on ice. Growing up out east, she says, you don’t even realise that being a guide is an option when it comes time to picking your career path. She thinks that her time may have been better spent becoming a fully certified mountain guide had she realised the possibility sooner.
As it was, Amélie had a career in communications before becoming a guide, but hated working in an office. She was very interested in climbing and ski touring, but like Sue, thought that she was already too old to become a guide. It was when she was doing a practicum with our guide Syl, who encouraged her to do the guiding program, that she believed that she could do it.
Sylvia Forest was one of the first women to go through the process of becoming a guide, and was the fifth woman in Canada to become a fully-certified mountain guide. Her story is interwoven with many of the women who went through the process of becoming a guide after her, and certainly with the women who guide at GCH – their histories with one another far precede their time spent heli-skiing together with us.
Syl started her career in the outdoors as a park warden at Jasper National Park. This role introduced her to avalanche control and mountain rescue. As a park warden, Syl was following in the footsteps of her older sister Kathy Calvert, who was the first female park warden in Canada. “She made me realize things were possible for women, that you didn’t have to take traditional roles.”
After working in Jasper for 18 years, Sylvia came to our neighbouring Glacier National Park as a Visitor Safety Manager. While she was still conducting mountain rescues, avalanche forecasting and education became a large component of her role. The area is known for having the largest avalanche artillery program in the world, where Parks Canada works with the Canadian Army to keep motorist on Canada’s main highway safe – the Trans Canada winds through hugely complicated avalanche terrain. Meanwhile, this area is one of the busiest and best-known ski touring destinations in Canada, with a program in place to keep skiers safe from artillery used to control avalanches. Syl was one of the architects of that program.
Syl is now a full-time guide with GCH in the winter, and works as a mountaineering guide in the summer. She also teaches professional-level avalanche courses with the Canadian Avalanche Association, and she is the first female and current president of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG).